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The Magic Of Microexercise

The Magic Of Microexercise

Microexercise is what I call all the moving around you do that’s not part of an explicit workout session. You can also think of it as lifestyle exercise. Some people call it incidental exercise, but I find microexercise a very powerful component of my personal TWC system, so I prefer to be more deliberate in the way I think about it.

The reason it’s magic is that it doesn’t take a lot of time, can quickly become a habit that you barely have to think about, and it can stop you gaining a significant amount of weight over time.

French women, who supposedly don’t get fat, use microexercise as a main form of exercise. Gyms and workout sessions are not as big a thing there. The French do their grocery shopping at individual local stores rather than supermarkets, walking from boulangerie to —- to —-. Partly because they have small fridges and kitchens, they also shop nearly every day, buying only what they need for the next few meals. They are far less reliant on driving everywhere and doing things in bulk. And they don’t have leftovers!


It’s hard to get in lots of microexercise when you’re constantly given ways to avoid it – remote controls, labour-saving devices, escalators, elevators, home delivery, cars. So you have to look for ways to move more.

Efficiency is your enemy when it comes to weight loss. You might save a little time – and often it’s not much – but over the days and weeks and months and years, you miss out on using up calories and these ‘saved’ calories add to your hips and tummy and thighs. So don’t think of it as saving time or labour, thing of it as stockpiling calories.

If you want to be thin in a world of chocolate then you want to stockpile as few calories as possible.

My Story

There’s no doubt that microexercise contributes significantly to my staying thin in a world of chocolate. Over the years I’ve structured this into my lifestyle in big and little ways.

Little Ways

  • While brushing my teeth I walk around my bedroom
  • I have a fitball in my office that I use as my chair when I’m not writing for long periods. It forces me to use my tummy muscles. (I switch to a chair when I’m writing for long periods.)
  • Every night after dinner I do an express 15-minute tidy-up. I replace remotes into their spot, refill the reservoir in the coffee machine, and put away anything left out on the kitchen benches.I quickly wipe down the dining table, coffee table, kitchen counters and any other surfaces that need it, trying to use my core as much as possible.  I also do a quick sweep of the dining and kitchen floors with my cordless upright vac (it’s rechargeable and super quick and easy to use). Not only does it keep my home in a perpetually visitor-ready state, but burns some bonus calories before bed.
  • Unless I’m really tired or laden down or talking with someone, I always take stairs over escalators. If there’s only an escalator, I walk up or down.
  • If something has to go upstairs or downstairs at home, instead of leaving it on the step to take up/down when I’m already heading that way, I take it straight away.
  • When I am a guest in someone’s home I help take things to the table before dining and remove things back to the kitchen afterward. I like to do this to be a helpful guest, but it’s also a nice little form of microexercise.

Big Ways

These aren’t just options I can take each day, these are locked into my life.

  • When choosing where to live, I pick somewhere within easy walking distance to shops – including grocery, department, books, pharmacies, clothing.
  • I also pick somewhere close to public transport, meaning I can choose not to drive.
  • Because I don’t drive, I’m forced to walk whenever I need anything.
  • Because I don’t drive when I shop, I have to carry my purchases home. I try to do this with a good posture and to use my core muscles.
  • I live on the third floor of a building with no elevator, so I need to walk up and down two flights of stairs every time I leave home.

My Story

A few years ago I visited my sister in Zurich, where she was living at the time. Like the French, the Swiss had small kitchens and fridges and popped out daily to get their supplies of groceries. It really opened my eyes to the pleasure of having less at home, of moving more as part of your day’s activity. And I can honestly say that in my 6 weeks there I did not see an overweight person.


Case In Point

Lydia is always asking people to Get Me stuff.

She asks her husband to get her a drink. She asks (well bellows in I’m honest) at her kids to bring over her cardigan or magazine or whatever. I get it – she’s tired and she’s carrying extra weight. We’ve all been there. But getting up and getting her own stuff would burn a heap of calories over time. Not to mention make her husband happier and set a good example for her kids.

For Your Journal

This week, spend some time writing in your journal, or chatting with a trusted friend, about these topics:

  1. What are the ways in which you save time but miss out on microexercise that could help you stay thin in a world of chocolate? In what areas are you prepared to add some microexercise to your life?
  2. How do you feel about the idea of moving even when you ‘don’t have to’? Could you open yourself to enjoying this feeling?
  3. Think about a few ways you could get more microexercise every day. Imagine doing these every day – and the cumulative number of calories you could burn over a week, month, year!

For You To Do

  1. Next time you have the option of taking stairs, try it. Enjoy the pleasure of moving your body, and think of the calories you could burn if you did this every time.
  2. Tonight, do an express-tidy of your kitchen and living areas before bed. It doesn’t need to be perfect – just a wipe down of surfaces, tossing of toys into a toy basket, running over of the floor with an upright vac, putting away of remotes and such into a cabinet or basket. 10 to 15 minutes ought to do it. If you don’t smile when you come out to this tidier are tomorrow, I will eat my hat*. Consider making this part of your evening routine.
  3. Look for ways you can walk more every day, for example:
    – To do errands
    – To visit friends
    – To take a break during your work day
    – To pick up groceries

*I will not actually eat my hat, because it’s not in column A.

Experiments To Try

  1. Find at least one form of microexercise you can add to your personal life. It could be walking instead of driving to drop off the kids, do shopping, get to work, or partway to or from work. It could be doing more housework (purely for the microexercise!), or doing it more quickly or with more energy. It could be getting up to get things yourself instead of yelling at the kids like Lydia. It could be walking around at lunchtime to do errands instead of doing them in the car at the weekend. It could be doing your grocery shopping by walking around to different vendors instead of using a supermarket (you may get better quality produce too).
  2. Find at least one form of microexercise you can add to your work life. It could be walking to see colleagues rather than emailing them when you’re at work. It could be having a walking meeting outside rather than sitting around a table and eating pastries – use your phone’s audio recorder to make notes.